About 24 hours from the end of 2014, I dribbled over the line for Supernova on Stars. This was only the second year I racked up the 100k points needed (in previous years my supernova status was bestowed on me as a bonus for qualifying for the WSOP main event on Stars). 2013 was the first when I realised late in the year that I had grinded so many satellites there I wasn't that far off the 100k, and it was achievable by moving some of my volume from other sites. The fact that I chopped Super Tuesday and did well otherwise in this spell gave me such a warm fuzzy feeling I decided to go for it again this year. Historically I've game selected ruthlessly on Stars and other sites, deliberately cherry picking the best games on each rather than showing blind faith to one brand. I must be one of the very few long time grinders who has a higher $ profit total lifetime on Stars (just under $450k) than vpps (just over 300k), which makes the point better that my profit at Stars has been based on judicious game selection than any other words I can think of right now.
But other than getting supernova again, how was 2014 for me?
Online2014 was my least profitable year online in over 5 years. It started badly, didn't get better for ages, and only a late surge saw me barely dribble into 6 figures $ profit for the year. This is basically 60% down on the last couple of years, and while it's offset in part by income from other sources like rakeback, coaching, staking, writing and live poker, I've always regarded online as my primary and most dependable income so the trend is worrying. If it continues into next year and beyond, I will really start to worry.
In particular, my profitability on Stars this year dropped massively, from $191k in 2013 to $32k in 2014. Since I did almost two thirds of my volume this years on Stars, that's very significant for how my year shaped up overall. I attribute this drop to a number of different factors:
(1) Variance. When you play as many big runner fields as I did this year in the form of Bigs, Hots and Sunday tournaments, one or two big binks make all the difference between a good year and a lacklustre one. This year, there were none. That said, even if you took the $85k I got last year for Super Tuesday out, 2014 would still have been almost 4 times less profitable for me than 2013. And I actually played more Stars tournaments this year than last year (or any other year). I don't want to use variance as an excuse, and of all the factors it's the one I can do the least about (apart from general rising standards), but it's worth pointing out that even over a sample size of over 6k tournaments, variance will be a big factor
(2) General rising standards. This happens every year, more good regs emerge, more recreational players stop playing having reached the point beyond which they cannot or are not willing to keep depositing. Ireland's biggest winner in mtts on Stars in 2013 (and historically over the last decade) recorded a 6 figure losing year there this year according to OPR. Other players who made even more than me in 2013 made even less in 2014: it's just tougher for everyone right now. Pessagno and Sam Grafton both had losing years onn Stars, so in that context maybe "only" making 32k there isn't so bad
(3) Shrinking edge and ROI, particularly in satellites. Satellites (in particular 3xs, which I was one of the first to practically solve) have historically allowed me to enjoy a ridiculously high ROI. In 2009 and 2010 when I pretty much played nothing else on Stars, I had ROIs of 152% and 101%, allowing me to make over 100k in profit in just over 1100 games. The gravy train couldn't last forever and more and more people copped on to what a goldmine they were. This year even though I again ran away with the UKIPT Online Qualifier of the Year title, the satellites were notably tougher, with more good regs and less really weak recreational players.
(4) Game selection. This was my biggest failing this year. I pretty much autopiloted on this front, playing all my usual satellites and just jumping into whatever else was on at the same time. Satellites are no longer the surefire earners they were, so I need to put more thought and effort into game selection in 2015. Since I added more non satellite mtts in 2011, my ROI on Stars oscillated between 40 and 60%. This year it slumped to 11%. I'm not alone in this. The greatest of them all, moorman, has seen his Stars ROI drop from 74% in 2009 to 2% and 7% in the last two years.
(5) Too many tables. My dip in ROI is partially attributable to all the above factors (especially game selection: too many hypers and turbos and late regging) but also just too many tables. Above 12 tables I start to autopilot, not utilising my HUD stats and general poker skills fully. Above 14 misclicks and other gross errors start to creep in. So this year I'm going to try to keep it to 10 to 12 tables at a time.
Ironically, I made almost as much money on two other sites (Party and Paddy Power) this year as I did on Stars, for a tiny fraction of the volume. Overall, Stars amounted to almost two thirds of my overall volume, and contributed less than a third to my overall profitable, so on average I made 4 times as much per tournament on other sites. I seem to have got sucked in to playing more than I should on Stars to maintain supernova status, but this may be a false economy. Particularly with other sites offering rakeback deals in excess of what Stars gives Supernovas (which has also been cut for 2015) without insisting you pay almost 20 grand in rake to get it. The general writing seems to be on the wall that Stars just isn't the most profitable site to play a lot of volume on any more, so at this point the plan for 2015 is to focus on identifying the best sites and games elsewhere and using Stars just to fill my screen when there's not enough on elsewhere.
Despite last year having been my least profitable in 5 years, I'm oddly more optimistic at the start of 2015 than I generally am at this time of year. In previous years I've kinda felt like, oh, everyone's getting better, edges are getting smaller, it's much easier to get good with all the training sites and other aids out there, so we are basically in a race to the bottom. While I feel a lot of this is still largely true, I think we have now reached a point where players of my generation (I mean in online terms, guys who have been grinding 5 to 10 years) have played so many hands and put so much work in away from the table to stay ahead of the curve that it's almost like med school. You might think the fact that there is so much medical information out there online and elsewhere means we wouldn't need doctors as much as we did, but most of us (rightly) will still head to our GP at the first sign of a nasty lump or a cough we can't shake rather than relying on Google. You can get a certain basic amount of medical information quickly in this way, but when it comes to the important stuff you still want to go to the person who did 7 years in med school. I feel the sheer level of complexity of poker online is similar in some respects. When I learned poker 10 years, a couple of hours coaching and a few hours playing online and I was basically a solid winning player. 6 months of 40 hour weeks later, I was good enough to make my living from the game. It's a lot tougher and more arduous than that these days. It's also possible that the rising standards may shake out a lot of the lesser regs who having reached the point where they are not making enough for it to be worth their while to continue will simply stop. I'm not holding myself up as a member of the elite here: it's entirely possible I am or will at some point in the future be one of these regs who get culled, but the point I am trying to make is the effect of this cull will be to increase the profitability potentially of the bigger winning players (due to less competition).
LiveLive I had my best year in quite a few, as evidenced by my challenges for both the Irish live rankings and the UKIPT leaderboards. Ironically this came on the back of reduced volume live this year. I didn't go to the WSOP, nor did I feel compelled to play every Irish festival on the calendar. I restricted myself primarily to UKIPTs and the major Irish festivals, and didn't feel as driven to play every side event as I have in former years. A good year more in terms of consistency than big results (or bottom line profit). There were no big outlier results, but I did make 8 final tables. No wins either unfortunately (there was a chop headsup and a five way chop, as well as a third, two fourths, a fifth and two ninths). No five figures cashes either (but then I played mainly smaller events this year rather than EPTs or WSOPs so had limited opportunities to record a big one), but I still cashed for a total of $35k live (buyins were $17k, so $18k profit).
In 2015, the plan is to switch my focus away from UKIPTs. 2014 was the first year since I turned pro I decided not to go to the WSOP, a decision I didn't regret for an instant....until the main event started. Then I regretted it so much I almost booked a last minute flight to get over there for the last day 1. This year I will be returning to the WSOP. At this stage the plan is to get there just before the Seniors event which happily falls after my birthday (at 50 years old and 2 days I should be one of the youngest in the event), spend another week or so playing a few sides, then head to New York with my wife for a holiday with some friends who live there, then back to Vegas hopefully refreshed for the main event. Besides the WSOP, I expect nearly all of the live tournaments I play next year to be in Ireland.
WritingIt seems like I start every year toying with the idea of retiring completely from live poker (but never do) and struggling with the feeling that there's not much left for me to say on this blog. In 2014 I barely averaged a blog a month (14 in total), by far the lowest number I've ever recorded. In 2008, I wrote 110 blogs! 2009 was 90. 2010 51, 2011 54, 2012 34 and 2013 30 so the trend has been down in recent years but this year that trend accelerated. I'm reasonably happy on the quality front. Three of the blogs I wrote this year are in the top 6 most read of all time, and despite the dwindling of new content the readership of my blog grew again this year. Historically, my readership grew rapidly in the early years and peaked in 2011. In common I assume with just about every other poker blog out there, it suffered a sharp dip in 2011 after Black Friday, had about 18 months of stagnation, and then started to grow rapidly again. The geographical shift is quite interesting too: in the early years well over half my readers were in Ireland (as you'd expect) and most of the rest in the UK. In recent years, that has shifted to the point where I have more than twice as many readers in the US as any other country, and while my Irish readership has remained stable, I also now have more readers in the UK and France than I do in Ireland.
For 2015 I hope to keep up the blogging when I feel like I have something worth writing about. I guess part of the problem is that I write more for magazines these days (and will be doing some blogging for a major site). I greatly enjoy the challenge of writing for the wider readership of magazines (and I greatly enjoy being paid for it) so if I have only so many hours in the month to write, that stuff takes precedence over the blog for now.
I keep getting asked when I'm going to get around to writing a poker book. Maybe 2015 will finally be the year it happens. I kinda feel like it's something I should wait til I'm no longer winning a decent amount online (before then I feel like the most productive use of my time is to keep clicking buttons). So yeah, maybe 2015 :)
CoachingIt's fair to say I'm a pretty reluctant coach. Most of the time somebody approaches me to do it, after a preliminary chat I send them to someone else I feel better equipped to give them what they need specifically for cheaper than what I charge. Within the Firm, David Lappin (who is a genuinely top class coach) has historically done most of the coaching work with the players we stake. In the last year or so Daragh Davey has emerged as a very decent coach and taken on more of the workload, so I just tend to chip in now and then as needed. This year I did far more coaching outside the group as there were more persistent students I couldn't fob off on other coaches :) That's a jokey way of saying more players came to me this year and managed to convince me that me coaching them would be a worthwhile investment of their money and both our time. Pretty much all of it has been in very specific areas where it is widely accepted I have some expertise, principally satellites and other ICM extreme situations, Nash equilibrium push/fold, and the adjustments online players need to make when they play live. The latter has been the most enjoyable to work on, and the most rewarding. Admittedly the sample size is tiny here, but everyone I did this kind of work with in 2014 had at least one major live bink afterwards.
To be honest, I have no idea whether I'll do more or less coaching in 2015. While I enjoy it in small doses, I don't think I could ever be the guy who does 20 hours of it every week. However, there is one major development on this front in the preliminary planning/talks phase so, watch this space.
Staking2014 was a very profitable year on this front. In particular, I want to give props to Kev Killeen and Nick Newport for their graft and talent this year. I've become generally much less positive as a whole on staking, but these are two lads I would certainly stay involved with for as long as they want. 2014 was a breakout year for Kev live with his UKIPT Dublin win and his EPT London 3rd place finish. Looking forward, I have less and less appetite for getting involved with new players. It's not that I don't feel it's potentially profitable, but I just don't enjoy it as much as playing myself, and time spent coaching or sorting out transfers tends to eat into my energy and playing time.
I haven't kept records of how I did on buying one off %s of people this year but it's not a major amount of money anyway (for what it's worth, I think I'm probably up a few grand overall). I've been doing less and less of this in recent years for a number of reasons: lessening personal interest, not wanting the hassle of tracking it or chasing people, and some bad experiences with people not paying up. Because of all this, these days I pretty much just buy %s of people in my inner circle that I really really trust, and who buy pieces of me on the rare occasions I sell.
Other poker stuffShameless attention whore that I am, I did more of the usual stuff I've done throughout my career like interviews, livestream commentary and the like. I always enjoy a bit of livestream commentary, and this year the highlights were commentating on the Irish Open final table with my Firm buddies Lappin Davey and Newport, and UKIPT Nottingham (where my friend Willie Eliot was a memorable presence) with Nick Wealthall and Jen Mason. This is always something I've just tended to say yes to when asked rather than go chasing or consider as a serious sideline, and I expect it to remain like that.
On the interview front, my personal favourite was the one I did with Andrew Brokos and Nate Meyviss for the Thinking Poker podcast.
Other life stuffSince poker effectively squelched my competitive running career, I've basically just ran a few miles a few times a week to keep some modicum of physical fitness. A few months ago I decided to try to step this up and get back into more serious training. I have now reached the point where I am doing a long run of 21 miles (soon to be 24 I hope) once a week, two speed sessions and three easy runs a week, all adding up to about 50 miles a week. A long way short of the 100 plus miles a week I used to do in my heyday, but I am building up, hopefully to some sort of return to competitive running if not in 2015 then early 2016. Runners are one of the most positive people on the planet about age milestones: while others bemoan the passing of youth as they hit 35, 40 or 50, runners look at it as increased opportunity to be competitive in a softer age category. While I'm not deluding myself that I can go back to winning New York ultra marathons or Irish 24 hour titles, I definitely feel I could be more than competitive in the over 50 age category.
So far so good on that front. At the very least, I feel improving my fitness and diverting my focus from being entirely poker will help my life balance and maybe even my poker. My long run in particular feels like a very effective (and cheap) therapy session with myself where I can shed all the frustrations of lost flips and other poker pains, and energise myself for the following week.
For pretty much all my poker career, I've done a 7 day week. Some of this was due to my own compulsive nature, some was down to the financial pressure of providing for my family, and some was down to not feeling there was anything much better to be doing with my time. The last few years have been difficult for my family (as outlined in this blog) but now those clouds have finally lifted and I'm not under the same sort of financial pressure, I'm looking to scale back down to a 5 day (or at the very least 6 day) week so I can spend more time with my wife and be a better husband. I can always go back to full time poker after the increased attention from me drives the poor woman insane.
I guess it's somewhat ironic that I end my most unspectacular year in poker in a while looking forward to the coming year with considerable optimism. In part it's because the last few months of 2014 were much better on a personal level and more profitable on the poker front than the start of the year, but I do genuinely feel that some changes I started making in the last few months have already started to bear fruit. I've put a lot more work into my game away from the tables. I recently saw a very good French documentary on nosebleed online players. One of the many excellent points made in it was that people learn and get good at poker in different ways. Most people do not learn by sitting down and working out strategies from first principles. They learn by watching and mimicking what other winning players do. The problem with being in this category is you will never be ahead of the game, only up with it, and if the conditions change in such a way that so does the best strategy, you won't be able to work it out for yourself. You'll either get there by trial and error after you notice what used to work doesn't any more, or you'll pick it up from other players. Every time there's a paradigm shift, you'll have the same problem. Over the time I've played poker, I now realise I've vacillated between and sometimes combined both approaches. I started by basically being told by my brother what to do to be a winning player. That got me so far and I got help from other good players, but beyond a certain point I had to sit down with a spreadsheet and do a lot of laborious math to solve things like push/fold. That work paid off handsomely as I crushed sit n gos for a while as one of the first to understand how solvable push/fold translated into a significant edge. It also meant when the 3xs started on Stars I hit the ground running. In the last few years I've gone back to primarily learning through mimicry. A welcome side effect of being friends with most of the best poker brains in Ireland (Lappin, Davey, Killeen, Tompkins, Newport, Smidge and Dan Wilson to name but a few) is when spots come up where I'm unclear, I can run them by the brains trust and get a pretty convincing consensus. That's made me a bit lazy on the math front though, but in the last few months I've started back into that area, and in particular trying to apply game theory more comprehensively and usefully to a wide variety of poker situations. I feel like that is already paying dividends, and hope it will continue to do so into 2015.
So that was my year. For those of you who got this far.....Happy New Year!